Grab and Go: Bride kidnapping in Central Asia

Updated: Jan 5, 2019

The practice of bride kidnapping, which is known to happen in parts of Central Asia as well, has existed in many patriarchal societies. Sometimes young couples willingly agree to execute this plan, especially if the parents were against the marriage, but often the girls are abducted against their wills. In the northern and southern Caucasus and some parts of Eastern Europe, this practice is almost gone, but in the south of Kazakhstan, the land of Kyrgyzstan and in an autonomous region of Uzbekistan this tradition still exists.

The motivations behind bride kidnapping vary by region, and it probably dates back to the establishment of patriarchy. In Central Asia, this usually happened among the nomads, if the parents did not give consent to the marriage and the couple would collude together to elope, to present their parents with a fait accompli.

The dominant form of marriage among the Central Asians is marriage through matchmaking (kudalyk) followed by the bride price (kalym). However, despite its illegality the tradition of kyz alyp kashoo (to take the girl and run away) in the southern parts of Kazakhstan or ala kachoo (to take and flee) in Kyrgyzstan happens, when a man wants to marry a girl but he has lower social status, poverty, disease, poor character or a criminal record.

How does this happen?

  • The "groom" and his friends grab the girl in the street, push him into the car and take her the kidnapper’s house.

  • The kidnapped girl is forced into the house, where the "groom’s" relatives would be waiting.

  • The relatives would persuade the girl to stay, convincing that this is a Kyrgyz tradition and "this is the case with everyone”.

  • If the girl anyway wants to leave, often the most elderly woman lies on the threshold. (According to the Kyrgyz and Kazakh traditions, stepping over the elderly means to become damned.)

  • When the girl manages to reach her parents, the parents also would try to persuade her to stay, because it is considered “dishonor to the family” for the girl to come back.

  • Sometimes, “the groom” rapes the woman to shame her into staying with him; of the 12,000 reported cases of forced abduction in Kyrgyzstan in 2013, 2,000 of those women reported being raped.

  • Finally, when the "groom’s" relatives force the girl to accept the fate, they often physically restrain her and place a white scarf on her head (the headscarf is highly symbolic; when she agrees to wear it, the marriage is considered to be a done deal.)

Picture: Kyodo/Alamy Source: Alamy

Despite bride kidnapping was outlawed in Kyrgyzstan in 2013, the Women’s Support Centre says that nearly 12,000 young women and teenage girls are thought to be kidnapped for marriage each year. There are many cases of homicide or suicide due to bride kidnapping, but the police tend not to seriously investigate these cases. For example, 20-year-old Burulai Turdaaly Kyzy was stabbed to death right in the police station by a 29-year-old man who had stalked and abducted her twice.

Even though many authorities in justify this “ancient custom” of bride kidnapping, there is no nomadic romanticized vision of this practice today. The States should seriously address this issue and the men in the power increase the penalty for domestic violence and kidnapping.

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